After a busy 2020 and looking ahead to the TR Presidential Library, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is making at least 4 big changes for even more visitors.
That means, when they are done, more people can access the TR Park — especially the south unit. Crews are remodeling, rebuilding, adding facilities and making more of it handicap accessible. From trails, to visitor centers to bathrooms, the Theodore Roosevelt National park will look different.
For years, park officials pushed for funding for the projects, but it wasn’t until last year that funding was released for the upgrades. The money is in a National Park Service account, but requires federal approval to be spent. President Trump’s administration approved the expenditures and beginning last fall, work is underway.
Park Superintendent Wendy Ross says some of the improvements, such as paved trails and more accessible visitor centers, were spurred by visitor responses. She tells the story of a letter from a frustrated woman who visited the park in a wheelchair. She wrote how she struggled to access the visitor center. Ross said the woman’s complaints were valid and very well received.
The letter added to the growing list of needs the park lists with the U..S. Interior Department such as the washed out slide on one section of the south unit scenic drive. Once the money was released, the park lost no time putting the money to work. Crews this winter are working on the south unit visitor center, making it more handicap accessible.
The road slide on the scenic loop of the south unit is a well-publicized problem. Besides the closed slide area, there is a constant need for road repairs in both north and south units because the soil is unstable.
Wendy Ross said the road repair project is moving forward. Engineers completed the geotechnical study and findings of the shifting roadway. Now, they are designing a road surface and roadbed to resist slumps, slides, and shifts of the area. The slide happened in an area of the park notorious for unstable ground and numerous sink holes, so the “fix” is going to have to be substantial, Ross said.
A Place to “Go”
Ross lists several other projects crews are working on this year, items many visitors will quickly notice. That includes major remodeling at the long-neglected Peaceful Valley Ranch, and more vault toilets, in addition to better handicap access of the visitor centers, bathrooms and trails.
Several locations in the Park will have new vault toilets. Ross said last year’s heavily visited month of April overwhelmed the toilet capacity in the north and south units. New toilets have been built in the north unit at Oxbow Overlook, and yet to be built toilets at Caprock Coulee Trailhead.
Peaceful Valley Ranch
The $5.5 million Peaceful Valley project will bring the famous ranch back to life. Its “cowboy” history is a major part of America’s story of ranching; it is a cultural treasure.
For years, visitors knew the site for its horseback trail ride concession. Then, it closed, seemingly abandoned as a park facility while and waiting for funding for repairs and remodeling.
Several crews now at work on different aspects of the entire ranch area. For example, they are stripping the log cabin of the drywall and other features that covered up the log original walls and fireplace. They are also lifting buildings and adding foundations to the buildings.
Ross said they are considering several ideas for the usefulness of the ranch house. Many of those ideas will be massaged to usefulness as they tie into the planned Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.
Handicap Accessible Wheelchair Trails
Until now, some of the most scenic areas of the park were off-limits to people who could not navigate marked trails.
Last fall, crews laid concrete on 900 feet of Boicourt Trail and 600 feet of Skyline Trail, making them both handicap accessible. The parking area has handicap-restricted parking zones, and Ross expects the two trail heads will get a lot of use this summer.
The two trails now also include benches for everyone to sit and enjoy some of the best places to see sunsets.
More and Better
While 2021 appears to be a busy season for upgrades, even more changes are planned for 2022 and beyond. Ross anticipates the additional exposure the park will get from the TR Presidential Library will require more and better facilities. So, look for changes such as more and better toilets.
A Remote Experience of Peace and Solitude
Though many people exploring the park from the marked and maintained trails, others would like a more remote experience. Visitors looking for solitude and beauty can adventure off the marked trails.
The entire interior of the park is open for exploration, and in our next story we’ll show you two ways to go beyond the marked trails to enjoy remote peace and quiet.
When spring arrives, you’ll want to know the good places to see spring color. Click here for one of those places.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park open?
Yes it is. Unless heavy snow prompts road closures, the entire park, including Elkhorn Ranch, as well as the north and south units are open.
Where are the two units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
The south unit straddles Interstate 94 about 25 miles inside the North Dakota/Montana State Line. The north unit sits along Highway 85 about 15 miles south of Watford City.
What is the difference between the north and south units?
The south unit is larger and more popular. The Administrative History of the two units describes the mission of the south unit is more about economics, drawing people off the Interstate. It says the north unit is more of a nature preserve. Both units are popular with visitors with full amenities including campgrounds, trails, and vault toilets.
Can you see bison and other wildlife in the park in the winter?
Yes, bison and wild horses in the south unit roam year round. In the north unit, bison and longhorns are out and about year round, too. Some times, bighorn sheep graze along the road in the north unit in the winter. Visitors see elk and mule deer on ridgelines and hilltops all year round. Prairie dogs come out when the weather is warm, even on a warm winter day.